Harvesting chestnuts?

terri_portlandOctober 1, 2006

We have lots of horse chestnut trees in the neighborhood; but only one English chestnut tree that I know of, in a public park. I've gone there to harvest the fallen chestnuts a few times -- but then don't know what to do with them. (note to self: take gloves next time).

Do I dry them in the husk? How do I de-husk without doing serious damage to my hands? Carrying a plastic bag of them home today was a bit like carrying a porcupine in a bag.

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

I think they are poisonous. Unless someone knows something more... I was always taught they were. We had trees across the street from us when I was growing up. I was told to never touch them.
Here is what I found :
Nature in the City: Horse Chestnuts


Horse chestnuts exotic spring flowers and prickly fall burs. As the seeds ripen the burs open and release the shiny red-brownÂbut inedibleÂ"nuts."
by Sarah Walker, from the October 2004 Newsletter
Chestnuts amaze me. In fall, when their shiny red-brown "nuts" lie scattered on the sidewalks, I canÂt walk by without picking up a few to polish and keep around the house for a while. A writer named Rebecca Rupp describes their marvelous color as "seductively gleaming mahogany." I think the color and feel are as evocative as beautifully tanned leather.

In the spring I get another jolt from chestnuts because their white flower clusters are so striking. At the tip of each branch is a tall pyramid of frilly white flowers, each with a splotch of pink and several long slender stamens. They are exotic-looking.

The chestnut trees along MoscowÂs streets are called European horse chestnuts. Admire the shiny nuts and the gorgeous flowers, but DONÂT EAT THE NUTS! Horse chestnut trees do not produce the "chestnuts roasting on an open fire" that Nat King Cole croons about every Christmas. The edible chestnut grows on the European sweet, or Spanish, chestnut. The ones we buy for the holidays are most likely imported from Italy.

Horse chestnuts contain a bitter poison called aesculin. Even though we see squirrels going after them, horse chestnuts are toxic for humans.

AesculinÂs poisonous properties are put to use by bookbinders, who add chestnut starch to their paste because book-nibbling insects will avoid it.

In England horse chestnut seeds are called "conkers." Apparently young boys string them on a line for a game of the same name. Serious tournaments are held each fall. Ben and JerryÂs sponsors one of these! More on this at www.woodlands-junior.kent.sch.uk. Personally, I had a hard time seeing how one chestnut dangling from a thread can smash another one, but Conkers dates back hundreds of years, so I must be missing something.

While learning about horse chestnuts for this article I realized that I had never actually seen an American chestnut, the majestic tree once common in old growth forests in the East. I wondered if there even were any left living, after the devastating chestnut blight wiped out the American chestnut by 1940.

Moscow tree experts directed me to the U of I campus where there are a couple of healthy trees that are either American chestnuts or Chinese chestnuts (it is not easy to tell them apart). I was able to spot the one by the tennis courts along Blake Avenue because of the spiny green burs on the ground, and clustered on the branches. This tree isnÂt a "majestic giant" but it looks healthy. ItÂs easy to find, between the street and the lowest court.

Chinese chestnuts are resistant to the blight that wiped out American chestnuts. Hybrids between Chinese and American chestnuts are being developed as a way to restore American chestnuts.

American chestnuts were common when Europeans came here in the 16th century. The easily-collected and fat-rich nuts were a popular food. Martha WashingtonÂs "Booke of Cookery" includes chestnut desserts. Longfellow wrote a poem in 1842 that starts out "Under a spreading chestnut tree / The village smithy stands." Native American tribes in the East used made chestnut meal and collected the oil from chestnuts.

A well-worn taleÂone that everyoneÂs sick of hearing over and overÂis called "an old chestnut."

I already have a small pile of "seductively gleaming" chestnuts on my window sill, but this year I know: donÂt eat Âem!

Chestnut trees
European horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum) Horse chestnut family
American chestnut "The true chestnut" (Castanea dentata) Beech family
European sweet chestnut (aka Spanish chestnut) (Castanea sativa) Beech family
Chinese chestnut (Castanea mollissima) Beech family
Buckeye (Aesculus glabra) Horse chestnut family

Sarah Walker found Rebecca RuppÂs book "Red Oaks and Black Birches" full of good stories about trees. She thanks Roger Blanchard, Jim Fazio, Richard Naskali, Dave Rock, and Paul Warnick for their chestnut knowledge.
Copyright: Copyright on articles, recipes and images are jointly held by the Moscow Food Co-op and the respective contributors, except were otherwise noted.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2006 at 10:55PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Sorry if it was confusing -- I'm not harvesting the horse chestnuts. It's the American or European -- the edibles - that I'm harvesting. We have lots of horse chestnuts around here, but I'm not interested in those.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2006 at 10:59PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardenlad(6b KY)

Walnuts should be dehusked, then dried in their shells. If you leave the outer husk in place you'll have a real mess on your hands.

Traditionally, drying was done by spreading them on flat roofs.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 7:50AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
zabby17(z5/6 Ontario)

But, GL, what about CHESTnuts?

I'm interested in any info on how to prepare these, too.


    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 9:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardenlad(6b KY)

Sorry, Zabby. Had walnuts on my mind for some reason.

Chestnuts are handled the same way. Except it's easier to remove the husks from walnuts, because they are smooth and soft.

Once the chestnuts are cured, you cook them any of several ways, all of which entail cutting an X in the shell. Then you can boil or roast them, and the shell starts to peel back. Finish peeling them and eat them out of hand or use them in other recipes.

One of the few things I miss about the big city are the chestnut vendors plying their trade on the street corners, come cold weather.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 10:11AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

This is a very timely thread, because right now the local u-pick has a big sign that you can pick your own chestnuts on Saturdays.

Of course, I've never eaten chestnuts, we have an American Chestnut tree on the farm but we harvest every precious nut and replant it. Our tree was apparently one of the few that was untouched by the "blight" that killed a lot of American chestnuts, and is even registered with the American Chestnut Foundation. Dad has made it his quest to single handedly replenish the American Chestnut population in Michigan. LOL

The chestnuts at the u-pick are the Chinese hybrid that is not susceptible to that blight, but I sure don't know what I'd do with the nuts. All I know is the Christmas song "Chestnuts roasting on an open fire", there must be other things to do with chestnuts...

So, what other things ARE there to do with chestnuts, before I go pick any?


    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 11:27AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Oh, yes, the walnuts are curing out of husk. We actually use the food dryer for those. If we spread them out on the roof, the squirrels would get them all! as it is I have to fend them off with the cultivator to keep them from wrecking my tender fall plants when they try to bury them in the garden!

Right now I have the chestnuts spread out on a large cooking sheet in a cool darkish place. The husks seem to be separating from the nut on most of them. I've read lots of conflicting info online about how to treat them. Guess I'll just experiment and let y'all know!

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 11:29AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
gardenlad(6b KY)

Goodness, Annie, I never realized what a deprived childhood you had. :>)

All sorts of things to do with chestnuts. Eat 'em out of hand, as I mentioned above. Or use them in a dressing (y'all would say stuffing). Or glace them for a sweet. Or add them to breads and cakes.

Meanwhile, here's a great fall treat:

Braised Fennel w/Chestnuts and Shallots

6 fennel bulbs
4 tbls sweet butter
15 small shallots
1/2 lb fresh chestnuts, peeled
2 tbls sugar
1 1/4 cups chicken broth
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper

Remove and discard the stalks from the fennel, reserving some of the fronds for garnish. Trim and discard the tough outer layers, if necessary. Quarter the bulbs lengthwise and set them aside.

In a large wide saucepan, melt 1 tbls butter over medium-high heat. Add the shallots and chestnuts and saute, stirring occasionally, for five minutes or until the chestnuts are browned on all sides. over the pan, reduce the heat tolow, and cook, shaking the pan occasionally, until the chestnuts are slightly tender, about five minutes. Remove the shallots and chestnuts from the pan and set aside.

Add the remaining butter to the pan and melt it over medium-high heat. Add the fennel and sugar and saute until fennel is well browned on all sides, about 12 minutes. If sugar begins to burn, reduce heat and coninue cooking.

Add shallots, chestnuts, broth, slat and pepper to the fennel; stir to combine, removing any crispy bits from the bottom of the pan. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium and cook, carefully turning vegetables occasionally, until they are tender, about 20 minutes. Uncover, raise heat to medium high, and cook until liquid is rduced to a glaze, 12-15 minutes. Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with reserved fennel fronds, and serve immediately.

Makes a nice sidedish for just about any meat, but is particularly good with poultry.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 1:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

I like the roasted ones. They are common to see around here in the winter. The taste reminds me of boiled peanuts. I picked up almost 2 pounds from the tree that we pass on the way to the girls' bus stop. The tree finally started shedding them. Most of them were out of the burs but a few I had to handle with tongs. I brought them home and finished opening them to get the nut out. (They were partially open already.) I think our summer drought affected them. In these burs, there are 3 nuts, but in most of them only one developed to normal size. Some of them don't have any nuts that developed normally. I'll be checking this baby each time I go past. I have a french recipe for lentil soup with chestnuts but I plan to use a can of them for that.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2006 at 2:22PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

I picked up 19 more nuts this morning. I think I might be walking past some walnut trees too. But the animals are getting to those nuts as soon as the husks open.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 2:47AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Hmmm. Thanks GL, I might have to go pick a bucket full, just as an experiment!


    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 10:49AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Linda_Lou(SW Wa.)

I am glad it isn't the horse chestnuts then !
I tried some chestnuts a few times, I didn't think they were good. Sort of like a mealy potato. I bought some from the Oriental market, fresh, and someone sent me some, too.



Chestnuts are easily grown in southern Michigan and
usually are of Chinese or Korean origin. They are quite
similar to the native American chestnut, but are generally
resistant to the blight that killed American trees.
They should not be confused with horse chestnut which is
closely related to the buckeye and not recommended for
eating. Chestnuts available in stores during the fall are
usually of European origin.

After picking, chestnuts are generally seasoned for
several days to remove excess moisture and to retard
formation of mold while being stored or shipped. This may be
done by spreading the nuts 1 or 2 layers deep on trays made
of 1/2-inch mesh hardware cloth. If seasoned 1 to 2 weeks
under warm, dry windy conditions, the nuts may dry more than
desired, especially if additional drying occurs during
storage. If the shell can be pushed in a considerable
amount when squeezed between the thumb and forefinger, the
nut may have dried too much. Best results are obtained
with plump nuts that have not been subject to mold.

If chestnuts are to be cooked within several weeks
after picking, they do not need to be air dried. If they
are to be eaten raw, they generally need at least a few
weeks for the starch to slowly change to sugar. This
process occurs in both air drying and refrigerated storage.
If the nuts are picked and eaten immediately, some may
have an astringent taste while others may not. Chestnuts
of Korean origin tend to be more palatable when green
than chestnuts of Chinese origin.



If properly stored, chestnuts may be stored in a
refrigerator for several months. Chestnuts dry rapidly in
dry air and mold rapidly in damp air. For refrigerator
storage, first place the chestnuts in a closed paper sack
and leave for 1 to 2 days until they have reached
refrigerator temperature. Then transfer them to a sealed
plastic sack and punch about a dozen holes in the plastic
with a medium sized nail. A good method for storing
freshly harvested chestnuts in a refrigerator is to use
milk cartons and dry peat moss (as it comes from the
package). If the chestnuts are separated by the dry moss
and the package tightly closed, the nuts should stay in good
condition for several months. Freshly dug sand can also be
used. Use sand that has been dried in the sun with
occasional mixing until it is only very slightly damp. The
sand should be cooled before use in the milk carton. Sand
also keeps chestnuts in good viable condition for 2 years
by storing the freshly picked chestnuts in sealed plastic
bags and maintaining a temperature of 26 degrees Fahrenheit
to 30 degrees Fahrenheit. (This temperature range requires
special refrigeration).

If molding occurs in the refrigerator, the nuts may be
washed and/or scrubbed to remove mold, and placed on paper
toweling- with 1 or 2 paper changes- and then allowed to
room dry for several hours. After drying, place again in a
paper sack in the refrigerator until they are chilled, then
transfer to a clean plastic bag with holes punched in it.
If mold persists on the nuts for an extended period of
time, the kernels may become "off-color" and no longer
edible. If mold has been present, any bad kernels can be
spotted by cutting the nuts in half before cooking.



Cooking methods:

1. Roasting: For roasting over an open fire, use a
covered utensil with a long handle. For roasting in an
oven, try a temperature of 300 degrees Fahrenheit for about
15 minutes. Experiment a bit with oven setting and length
of time to suit your own preference. When properly roasted,
the kernel may be removed with a small fork, dipped lightly
or completely in melted butter, and salted to taste.
CAUTION: Do not roast chestnuts unless you have punctured
the shell with at least 1 or 2 holes. If this is not done,
the build up of steam pressure within the shell can cause
the nut to explode even after they have been removed from
the oven. A sharp-pointed instrument such as an ice pick
or knife is good for putting holes through the shell.
Leaving one nut unpunctured is one way of knowing when the
nuts have roasted long enough - when it explodes, the other
nuts should be done.

2. Boiling: First cut the chestnuts in half with a
sharp knife. Use a rather shallow pan with cover, using
only enough water so nuts are not completely covered. Bring
nuts to a boil, then reduce the heat and boil for 15
to 20 minutes. Drain, allow to cool a bit, the kernels
should come out readily. The longer the nuts are
cooked,the mealier the kernels become and the more they
will crumble upon removal from the shell.

Chestnuts may also be boiled vigorously in a deeper
kettle with more water. After a few minutes, the
kernels will begin to fall out of the half shells. Drain,
remove the rest of the kernels from the shells and cook
as much as desired in another kettle of fresh water.

3. Steaming: Cut chestnuts in half, and try an
initial steaming time of 8 to 10 minutes. Drain and cool a
bit and remove any kernels which haven't already fallen out.
A small fork may then be used to spear the kernels for
dipping in melted butter with salt added if desired.
Steaming is considered by some to be the best method for an
easy removal of the kernel and is probably best for nuts
which have dried a bit too much. Steamed kernels may also
be added to other recipes.

4. Microwave oven: Use of the microwave oven can give
excellent results with the inner skin and outer shell
separating easily from the kernel. Results obtained depend
on the number of nuts being cooked, the degree of dryness of
the nuts, the setting of the oven, and the length of time
involved. Cut nuts in half, and place the cut end
down on a double layer of paper toweling. For a start, try
using 8 medium-sized nuts and a roast setting for 2
minutes. A bit of experimenting is necessary.

Cooked chestnuts may be kept in the refrigerator in
jars for a considerable period of time or in the freezer for
even longer.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2006 at 2:39PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mellyofthesouth(9a FL)

Do you think if I made this recipe, that I could store it in the fridge? How about chestnuts in brandy?


Cover blanched chestnuts with boiling water, and simmer slowly until tender; it will take from one and one-half to two hours. Weigh the nuts before cooking, and make syrup of sugar and water same in weight as nuts. Cook syrup until thick. Add nuts and cook for one and one-half hours. Strain out nuts and reduce syrup. Place chestnuts in glass jars. Flavor syrup with vanilla, reduce until very thick, and pour over the nuts. This makes a very rich preserve, and is used in pudding sauces, pudding, etc.

    Bookmark   October 6, 2006 at 2:47PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Freezing Orange Juice
Has anyone successfully frozen orange juice? When I...
Cherry jam not setting
I made sweet cherry jam yesterday, without added pectin...
Cranberry Vinegar
Every few years I make a batch of cranberry vinegar...
CA Kate
Classico jars are back!
They changed the lid form back to a standard canning...
You can't just tell me I can't use half gallon jars....
..... for canning anything but juice, and that I can't...
Sponsored Products
Paula Deen Signature Dinnerware Southern Gathering 10-Inch Chestnut Serving Bowl
Harvest Gold Gray Dupioni Silk Shade Ovo Table Lamp
Lamps Plus
Calabash Bowl
$19.99 | zulily
Royal Oak Ceiling Fan by Hunter Fans
$229.00 | Lumens
Masala stripe jute placemats set/4
Origin Crafts
Retreat Cherry 9 Drawer Media Dresser - CREN091
Grape Harvest Ovo Floor Lamp
Lamps Plus
Templeton Chestnut Bronze Three-Light 22-Inch Bowl Pendant
$504.00 | Bellacor
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™